Impossible

Alan Cox is Harry Houdini and Phill Jupitus is Arthur Conan Doyle in a play exploring a belief in the spiritual and the reasons that can lead you to believe in something which nobody can prove.

The use of projection to indicate the setting is a nice way of getting around the strictures of a Fringe space.

There’s some fascinating historical background in this play, with an extract of the first ever claymation dinosaurs that were part of an adaptation of Conan Doyle’s novel The Lost World; some interesting facts surrounding the characters are also dropped into the script, though this is sometimes done in a slightly jarring manner. The story itself, founded in fact, is a fascinating basis for a play, with untapped scope to expand into more general human concerns such as grief and friendship.

The performances in Impossible are varied. Cox delivers an energetic and distinctive performance as Houdini, and one which is not overstated. Jupitus, on the other hand, has a low-energy delivery that is generally an effective portrayal of the eccentric author. He is unfortunately let down by his accent. While it is true that Conan Doyle had an idiosyncratic hybrid accent, Jupitus does not quite reach this, sporadically slipping into other dialects. Likewise, Cox does not attempt a Hungarian accent for Houdini, though this is perhaps preferable to an unsuccessful endeavour.

The script by Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky is on the whole well constructed, with some subtle references for Sherlock Holmes fans to catch. There are more than a few laugh-out-loud moments and the lengthy discussions between the two legendary men are tense and gripping, as are the explorations of grief and how we deal with it, though these themes could be pushed further. A few of the secondary characters perhaps need more rounding out, such as Conan Doyle’s wife, Lady Jean, whose reactions did not always seem logical or even three-dimensional, being always of one solid opinion, and often lacking the expression of more complex, multi-layered emotion. The ending, however, is poignant and thoughtful, illuminating a side to each character that is not necessarily well-known.

The direction by Hannah Eidinow is simple but has some interesting touches, such as the use of projection to indicate the setting, which is a nice way of getting around the strictures of a Fringe space. Likewise, the score by Jamie Robertson is used to great effect to enhance the atmosphere of certain scenes, particularly scéances. However, the pace of the play is often quite slow and, with a few line slip-ups and unnecessary longueurs, Impossible needs to be a great deal more polished to achieve its full potential.

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Performances

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The Blurb

Seances, spirituality, immortality and magic. The true story of the deadly feud between Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Starring Phill Jupitus as Conan Doyle and Alan Cox as Houdini. By Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky, writers of previous Edinburgh smash hits Coalition: 'real class... don't miss it' **** (Times), 'terrific' **** (Metro), 'an absolute gem' ***** (Sunday Express), 'slick and funny' **** (Scotsman), Making News: 'barrel of laughs' **** (Sunday Express), **** (ThreeWeeks), **** (Times) and Kingmaker: 'sharply satirical' **** (List, 'hugely entertaining' **** (ThreeWeeks), 'brilliantly written' (BroadwayWorld.com). Directed by the multi award-winning Hannah Eidinow.

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